Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Carbon Leaf - The High Watt - 10/29/2013

Artist: Carbon Leaf (with guest Andrew Duhon)
Venue: The High Watt, Nashville, TN
Date 10/29/2013

View from our hotel balcony - that brick building in the upper center is Cannery Row where The High Watt is located.
Set List: (I know this one is accurate because, since my friend wasn't there to take a picture of the set list for me, I bought a live recording of the decision ever!!)
1. A Song for the Sea
2. What About Everything
3. Comfort
4. One Prairie Outpost
5. Alcatraz
6. Life Less Ordinary
7. Love Rains Down
8. Desperation Song
9. She's Gone
10. Midwestern Girl
11. Two Aging Truckers
12. Another Man's Woman
13. Block of Wood
14. Ragtime Carnival
15. The Fox & The Hare (!!)
16. Februaery Detailles
17. The Boxer
18. A gospel song (I'm not sure the name)
19. Let Your Troubles Roll By

 My take from the Carbon Leaf merch table (friendliest merch people ever, btw!!).
Yesterday my Husband and I made (what is fast becoming) our annual pilgrimage to Nashville, TN for a concert.  This time we hit the music city to see Carbon Leaf and Andrew Duhon at The High Watt, a small, intimate room that is part of Cannery Row.  I was not familiar with Andrew Duhon before I heard he was opening for them, but I had a chance to check out some of his music before the show and we were both excited to hear him play.  Let me tell you, I honestly can't remember when I saw an opening act that captivated a room the way he did.  With his bluesy voice, harmonica and heartfelt lyrics, we were all drawn in immediately.  Not to mention, his finger-picking is a thing of beauty.  The audience paid attention to him as if they were all there to see him specifically, which is always a nice thing to see.  Like I said, I'm not really familiar with his songs, so I can't speak too much to which ones he played specifically, but I thoroughly enjoyed them all and I look forward to getting to know his music.  For his last song, I do know that he broke out the slide and played us a real blues number from his new album, The Moorings, called Sidestep Your Grave.  This song really showcased where his voice and his playing belong.  The crowd went nuts, I went nuts - it was awesome.
After he finished, it was time for Barry Privett, Terry Clark, Carter Gravatt, Jon Markel, and Jason Neal, the men of Carbon Leaf, to take the stage.  Before last night, I had never been to a Carbon Leaf show before, so I had no idea what to expect.  I'm kind of a recent fan (although my collection of their albums is almost complete after shopping in Nashville) but I know enough to know that they cannot be defined by genre.  They are largely Celtic influenced, but they have entire records that don't really reflect that too much.  Also, I'm only familiar with about half of their catalogue, so I rather expected them to play a lot of songs that I don't know.  Suffice to say I was really excited to see what would unfold.  If you're familiar with them (and if you're not, you should be) you can see from the set list that they ended up playing a perfect combination of older and new songs.  They played all the favorites from Indian Summer and still properly supported the two new albums Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle and Constellation Prize. Somehow they managed to play everything I wanted to hear and then went back and picked out some songs that I didn't know, but they knew I'd love.  These guys are really good at making a set list!
They opened with A Song for the Sea from Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle, it's a beautiful song, especially to hear them perform it live, but the crowd really got involved when they next broke into the classic What About Everything off Indian Summer.  Everybody in the place got caught up in this song and they held us in their grip from that point on.  The audience participation reached it's peak during One Prairie Outpost. This might be my most favorite Carbon Leaf song because it's pretty much perfect and apparently I'm not alone on that point.  Somewhere in the first verse, Barry stopped singing altogether and the audience (that couldn't possibly have been more than 250 people because that's all The High Watt holds) sang it to/for him loud enough that we can be heard over the band on the live recording.  He smiled pretty big about that and seemed pleased by it, it was certainly one of my favorite moments of the night.  In fact, Barry, Terry and Carter seem to have a lot of fun on stage in general.  They are very connected with the audience and that always makes for a fun show, it makes it feel like we're all in it together, which is how a live show should feel.  I don't mean to leave Jason and Jon out, but I couldn't see Jason from where I was during most of the show and Jon is wicked good on the bass (or anything else he picks up to play it seems), but during shows he kind of stays in the back and plays, which is cool, I'm just glad he's playing.
As I had hoped, the night included a number of loud, fast songs that simply demand you clap your hands and sing along such as She's Gone, Another Man's Woman, The Boxer, and Life Less Ordinary.  My absolute favorite moment of the night was when the multi-talented Carter busted out his hurdy gurdy and they played The Fox and the Hare (which we have claimed as "our song").  I mean seriously, how often do you see a hurdy gurdy played live??  It was so much fun to sing along with these songs in that hot, sticky room full of strangers, led by such great showmen on stage.  The best part of a Carbon Leaf show is that they are so talented that they can weave exactly the opposite spell with equal skill.  At one point it was only Barry and Carter, two stools and microphones and they played Midwestern Girl, a quiet, acoustic, beautiful song, for a completely captivated audience. 
For their encore, they sang an a cappella gospel song.  I'm not sure the name, but it was absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking.  They said it was for Lou Reed, but I couldn't stop thinking about mothers who are no longer with us, my own and others, and I was very nearly in tears by the time they finished.  It was such a powerful moment.  They invited Andrew Duhon and his harmonica back on stage to finish out the night with an absolutely epic rendition of Let Your Troubles Roll By, during which Carter's fingers did some amazing stuff.  Overall, it was exactly why we buy tickets to live shows, with hopes of experiencing that kind of magic.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

All the Things We Are EP - Isaac Johnson

Album: All the Things We Are EP
Artist: Isaac Johnson
Release Date: September 24, 2013

Track List:
1. Virginia
2. My Coma
3. Sweet It Seems
4. Home
If you read this blog at all ever, then I'm sure you're all too aware that I'm an official card carrying member of the Aaron Tap fan club.  As such, when an album is released that he's had a hand in, I'm naturally inclined to check it out.  Sometimes I end up with things that stay in my collection mostly because they're Aaron Tap productions.  Other times, this is how I discover new favorites.  Lucky for me, the new Isaac Johnson EP, All the Things We Are, is the latter.
This little four song collection has pretty much everything I look for in an album.  On my first listen, there was Isaac's voice itself.  It's one of my favorite kinds.  A little breathy, warm and easy to listen to, no hard edges anywhere.  There is never a time when you wouldn't be in the mood to listen to this man sing.  It's good stuff.  Then there are the lyrics, whether sweet or biting, they're all well crafted and not the least bit awkward (which believe me, is an accomplishment).  Occasionally, "and when I look in your eyes, I feel like myself," from My Coma for example, they even border on love song genius.
Regardless of how good he is with a love song, my favorite song in the collection is the anti-love song, "Sweet it Seems".  First because I love a song with a twist, and second because I just adore the sound of it.  The guitar part caught my attention immediately, then there's hand claps and all sorts of things going on here - the whole production of this song is absolute perfection. 
In fact, the entire EP is richly layered with instruments and non-instruments alike.  It's largely an acoustic number, but not like anything you've heard before.  I've seen Mr. Johnson described a singer-songwriter, but please don't let that define him for you.  These song far exceed that description.  I highly recommend you check out this EP, it's an all around great listen.  If you'd like to read the artists themselves speak more intelligently about the record than I ever could, go here and here

Friday, October 25, 2013

B-Room - Dr. Dog

Album: B-Room
Artist: Dr. Dog
Release: October 2, 2013

It seems to take me a long time to properly process a Dr. Dog album, probably because they really transcend explanation.  However, we're going to see them live next weekend and I wanted to tell you about their latest release, B-Room, before I hear any of the songs performed live and they get all distorted.  I'm a firm believer that a song is just never the same once you've heard it live.

What I love most about this band is that there is no such thing as a "typical Dr. Dog album".  We all know artists that kind of have a formula or a go-to sound that you can expect to hear on every album.  Well, you won't find that here.  I never know what to expect when I go to spin one of their albums for the first time.  Hell, sometimes I don't even know what to expect from the beginning to the end of a single song and I absolutely adore that about them.  When I listen to Dr. Dog, I know that they're creating the music they want to play, the music they want to hear.  They're being true to themselves every minute of every song and that is an incredible thing to listen to, probably because it is such a rare quality to find.

Another thing I love about them is the way they juxtapose heavy, insightful lyrics with bouncy, jangly music.  It makes for some crafty little songs that make you think about the broad picture of life and your place in it, but that somehow keep from being downers.  B-Room is packed full of just this kind of song.  Take for instance "Broken Heart", a song about a life devoid of actual true love or even a belief in it.  Depressing song fodder for sure, but somehow it's still catchy as can be and not sad at all. 

I read somewhere once that Dr. Dog were never known for being good lyricists.  Personally, I think that's bullshit.  I think they write amazing lyrics, you just have to pay attention, which is probably why some people don't appreciate them.  Maybe it's because they don't often write quick little lines that you can quote on twitter and have them make any sense.  Their songs often read like short stories and taken from beginning to end are well-crafted and endlessly clever.  I also enjoy that you never really know what they're up to, it makes it fun to listen to songs like "Cuckoo" that very well could actually be about a tiny wooden bird trapped inside a clock and nothing else.

Like other albums in their collection, B-Room refuses to be slipped quietly into a particular genre.  I would never call this pop music and even rock doesn't sound right, exactly.  For some reason I'm sick to death of hearing people refer to their music as having a 60's feel to it, although I guess in some cases it's true.  I did notice earlier (I've listened to B-Room about 5 times today) that "Love" has a kind of acidy 70's thing happening in the background that I'm  digging.  Dr. Dog almost demands the creation of a new genre, one that should be called something like 'Richly Layered Creative Rock'. 

My two favorite songs on the record just so happen to be polar opposites.  Mixed in with all the retro sounds and thinly veiled love songs is the aptly named "Rock & Roll".  It's an upbeat, coming of age jam about the discovery of rock music, love and all sorts of fun things.  It's a lot of fun to listen to and to sing along with.  Then there is the quiet moment on B-Room and it is amazing.  The song, "Too Weak to Ramble" is an acoustic number sung by Toby Leaman with Scott McMicken singing harmonies.  It is stripped down, full of angst, and tailor-made for Leaman's delivery.  It's remarkable how such a simple arrangement can be so powerful.  All in all, I think B-Room is a great addition to the Dr. Dog catalogue and I'm thrilled to have in my collection.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Matt Nathanson @ Headliners Music Hall 10/23/2013

Artist: Matt Nathanson
Venue: Headliners Music Hall, Louisville, KY
Date: 10/23/2013

This pic is not from last night, or even from Headliners.  In fact, it's 2 years old, but it's the only one I have handy.

Set list (I remembered them all, and actually had them remarkably in order, but I have to credit @seriousbeagle's picture of the set list for the 100% accuracy):
  1. Mission Bells
  2. Modern Love
  3. Run
  4. Heart Starts
  5. Car Crash
  6. Kill the Lights
  7. Sunday New York Times
  8. Room @ the End of the World
  9. Wedding Dress
  10. Bulletproof Weeks
  11. Suspended
  12. Annie's Always Waiting (For the Next One to Leave)
  13. Kinks Shirt
  14. Under Pressure
  15. Farewell, December
  16. Birthday Girl
  17. Faster
  18. Come On Get Higher
So, we started our fall concert lineup last night at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville with the illustrious Matt Nathanson and man, what a way to start.  Everybody else we see this next couple weeks is going to have to bring their A-game to live up to the show Matt, Aaron and Co, put on last night.  But, I digress, let me start at the beginning.

Joshua Radin opened for them and his set turned out to be a perfect storm...a perfect shit storm.  If you've been to many shows, I'm sure you've seen this sort of thing go down before.  Let me lay it out for you.  It goes like this: an opener comes out that not many people in the audience seem to be familiar with, and it's the kind of audience that's not in the mood to humor an opener that they're not especially interested in.  By that I mean that the ice clinkers are in full force, clinking their ice, having their conversations, paying no mind to the guy on stage trying to do his job.  Add to that, the guy on stage, while a decent performer and all, isn't one of those larger-than-life showmen (like our headliner last night, for instance) who takes over a room and captivates an audience, so he's kind of lost in their (I assume) mostly liquor-fueled conversations.  So the whole thing just kind of went to hell in a hand basket.  I can see both sides of this issue.  From his side, it's totally disrespectful and rude for the audience to carry on talking and not paying attention when he's up there trying to share his heart and soul with them.  On the other hand, they paid their money and if they want to stand around and drink and gab, I suppose that's their prerogative.  Although, personally I didn't appreciate it because I didn't pay to listen to people talk quite that loud through the show, but that's just me.  And I have seen a couple openers that have actually sucked quite a lot and have gotten drowned out by the audience a lot worse than he did and they kept their cool and went on with their set as if everything was fine whereas Mr. Radin kind of lost his cool and showed his ass last night.  But, I guess he was just wasn't in the mood to take any shit and we all have days like that.  Anywho, moving on.

After all that drama, Matt Nathanson, Aaron Tap, Shiben Bhattacharya, and their drummer I didn't get his name (I hope somebody comments with it so I can add it) (Edit: Chris Lovejoy is the drummer - thank you to the commenters who know more than I do, and my apologies to Chris for not knowing his name), finally took the stage.  And just to be superficial for a second, Matt's hair is all grown out and totally epic, I was quite glad he hadn't had it cut.  Anyway, they opened with Mission Bells which, just for me personally, isn't the opener that Mercy is (but you gotta remember that Mercy is the first song I ever saw him play live so I have a soft spot for that one), but you can't open every show with the same song and I thought it went over really well live and it got the night off to a great start.  After that was Modern Love which is always a fun, energetic song that gets the crowd into the show.  We got a little back story before Heart Starts, which is one of my favorites from Last of the Great Pretenders, and I love Matt's stories, so I was glad that he was more talkative this time than the last time he played Louisville.  In fact, he got more and more chatty as the night went on which was nice to see because I take it as a sign that he's relaxed and having a good time himself.  As he got into Heart Starts, we found that his breathy high notes didn't make it to the show with him, (they must have been chillin' in the bus listening to some of that vinyl he's been amassing while on tour), but it was cool, I felt like the audience was understanding and we tried to do our best to fill in for him (I mean, our best sucks compared to his best, but we did what we could).  I mean, good lord, the man sings pretty much every night, these things are bound to happen to from time to time.

After that he dipped back in the catalogue and broke out Car Crash and here is where his live show completely disassembles you if you let it.  In fact, last night was filled with the songs that get in and break down the little pieces.  The kind of songs that I can just close my eyes and ride along on the swell of the music.  They wipe out all the bullshit and there's nothing there but the music and the image of fingers on guitars and the feel the drum in my chest.  I can literally let go and know that I'll be alright, if you will.  There was Car Crash, Wedding Dress, Suspended, Room @ the End of the World, Sunday New York Times, Farewell, December...just live music perfection.  I get into the fast stuff too, don't get me wrong, but I really dig these slower, floaty tunes.  I can't help it.  The most stripped down moment of the night came when he played Bulletproof Weeks for us.  Apparently Matt didn't used to play this song because of the ouch factor, but he's decided to start adding it to set lists and I think it's a great addition.  It's a quiet, powerful man-and-his-guitar moment.  I noticed that the chatty ice clinkers got cranked up a bit again while he was playing this one which irked me, and I hope he doesn't think the gravity of the song was lost on everyone.

Nor was the show all a quiet, acoustic, singer-songwriter affair.  A lot of the songs on the new record are very rock and roll, Kill the Lights for example.  It's a sexy little tune on vinyl and he revels in the sexiness of it when he plays it live.  It was an absolute celebration of carnality and it was wonderful.  Annie's Always Waiting (For the Next One to Leave) is my favorite song on Last of the Great Pretenders and I was tickled pink that he played it last night.   It's so fun to see Matt really getting into the rock star vibe.  Playing the shit out of his guitar, jumping around up there, owning that stage.  I know that he had a shoulder injury from going ass over tin cups off his bike a few days ago and that sort of thing doesn't heal quickly (he even had a visible injury on his elbow), but there was no sign of it in his performance.  He was as energetic and into his playing as I've seen him.  It was a joy to watch. Me being me, I have to admit though, my favorite moment of the night was when they played the Queen/David Bowie classic Under Pressure.  Only because it was during this song that Aaron Tap broke out his beautiful, soaring tenor and it absolutely made my night.  I mean, I've heard it happen on my iPod and my ear buds and my car speakers, but I've never actually heard him go full throttle live before.  I'm telling you, it really was something else.  Wow.

So there you have it, the first concert of the fall was a rousing success.  They're playing the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville, TN tonight which was the first place we saw Matt headline and I wish we were going.  Sadly, it's not happening.  Next up for us is Carbon Leaf at The High Watt in Nashville next Tuesday, then Dr. Dog back here in Louisville next Saturday.